The decennial census plays an essential role in American democracy. Our series of blog posts examines what’s at stake for California and the challenges facing the 2020 Census, including communities that are at risk of being undercounted.
PPIC’s interactive census maps are an important tool for Californians working to ensure an accurate census count. Using estimates from the Census Bureau and the Federal Communications Commission, they highlight hard-to-count communities across the state and pinpoint reasons why certain areas may be hard to reach.
Home to about 2.5 million people, the Sacramento area includes the counties of El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba, in addition to Sacramento. Within this region, Yuba has the highest share of very hard-to-count areas (21%)—in the top fifth of hardest-to-count counties across the state—and Sacramento has the second highest (10%). Households in these very hard-to-count areas are less likely to respond initially to census forms and are therefore at risk of being undercounted, according to Census Bureau estimates that draw on local demographic characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, citizenship, and housing conditions) and historical trends.
- Legislative districts that include the fast-growing city of Sacramento will likely be the hardest to count. In Congressional District 6 (Matsui), Senate District 6 (Pan), and Assembly District 7 (McCarty), between 14% and 19% of neighborhoods are considered very hard to count. Other legislative districts in the region tend to cover more suburban or rural areas and have much smaller shares of very hard-to-count communities.
- There are small pockets of hard-to-reach areas across the region. Within Sacramento County, hard-to-reach areas are concentrated in the city of Sacramento, as well as around Rancho Cordova and Folsom. In some neighborhoods, 30% or more of households are predicted to not respond initially to the census. Other relatively hard-to-reach areas include Yuba City and Marysville at the border of Sutter and Yuba Counties, Davis and Woodland in Yolo County, and the eastern border of Placer and El Dorado Counties, directly north and south of Lake Tahoe.
- Local population trends can help guide effective outreach. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have historically been undercounted in the census. Overall, these groups make up a lower share of the population in the Sacramento area compared to the rest of the state. However, in much of the city of Sacramento, around Woodland and northwest Yolo County, and in South Yuba City and northeastern Sutter County, more than half of residents are from historically undercounted communities—primarily African American and Latino. Some of these areas have relatively high shares of noncitizens as well. Noncitizens may be less likely to respond to the 2020 Census because of the planned addition of a citizenship question and concerns about deportation and privacy.
- Parts of the Sacramento area have high shares of young children. Young children are historically underrepresented in the census. In census tracts in the eastern parts of Sutter County and southern Yuba County, in the city of Sacramento and surrounding suburbs, and the southwestern tip of Placer County, 9% or more of residents are children under five years old, compared to 6.5% statewide.
- Housing conditions may make an accurate count challenging. High shares of rentals, overcrowded rental units, and mobile homes can make it more difficult to count residents accurately. Around Yuba City and Marysville, all of these factors are prevalent: in some neighborhoods, more than 65% of housing units are rented, about a quarter of those are overcrowded, and 15% of households live in mobile homes. In the city of Sacramento, housing conditions vary, with some neighborhoods seeing high rates of overcrowding but low rates of mobile homes, while others see the reverse. Reaching residents in nontraditional housing will be critical to an accurate count—and will depend on local knowledge of how families make ends meet.
- Limited internet access may be an issue in rural areas throughout the region. The Census Bureau plans to collect the majority of responses online in 2020—a change from previous practice. Each county in the region has some census tracts with minimal residential high-speed connectivity, with the lowest access outside of the city of Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Yuba City, and Marysville. Outside of these areas, it may be harder to collect responses online, and participation will rely more heavily on in-person census takers or internet provided by local institutions.
We hope these maps serve as a starting point to help local, regional, and state leaders think about which activities, resources, and partnerships—including language assistance, awareness raising, and community outreach—might be most effective for accurately counting different parts of California. Stay tuned for future posts that examine hard-to-count communities in other regions of the state.